Leadership Priorities Take Shape
Throughout the opening eight weeks of this year's session, we reported on House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priority legislation. While the subjects and broad concepts were announced weeks ago, the details have only now come into focus. Most of the low-numbered bills reserved by both leaders have now been filed – House Bills 1-20 for Phelan and Senate Bills 1-30 for Patrick.
Here are a few of the newly filed priority bills of interest to counties:
- HB 5 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) creates an ad valorem school tax exemption for economic development.
- HB 9 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) appropriates $5 billion from the economic stabilization or “rainy day” fund for broadband expansion.
- HB 14 by Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) institutes statewide regulatory requirements, timetables and a third-party review process for land development permitting.
- HB 16 by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) institutes a juvenile justice diversion program and provides a funding framework for state and county funds.
- SB 11 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) creates an office of school safety at the Texas Education Agency and increases scrutiny of student truancy.
Bill Filing Deadline Reached, Record Number of Bills Filed
The Texas Constitution permits legislation to be filed after the 60th day, but only with super-majority approval. So with that important caveat, today marks the bill filing deadline. After a slight downturn last session in the trend of ever-increasing bill filings, the 88th Legislature reverted to form, filing more than 7,500 bills – a new record. It is worth noting, however, that the capacity of the Legislature lends to about 1,300-1,600 bills passing during a regular session.
County Officials Testify in House and Senate Committees
The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice held its first hearing to discuss bail reform, criminal penalties for fentanyl and other matters. Jennifer Tharp, Comal County Criminal District Attorney and Co-Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA), testified in support of SB 1318 and SJR 44, both by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), calling them smart legislation that increases safety, transparency and accountability in criminal procedures.
Judge J.R. Woolley, Chair of the JP Legislative Committee for the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas (JPCA), also testified in support of SB 1318 as it relates to bail reform and clarifying magistration procedures as a result of the implementation of 2021's SB 6 by Huffman. Woolley said there was still work to be done on this bill for Justices of the Peace across the state to be compliant. Huffman said she would meet with stakeholders to address concerns. The bill was left pending in committee.
Additionally, Woolley testified in support of SJR 44, which would grant magistrates broader authority to deny bail under certain circumstances. The bill was voted favorably out of committee.
Kim Ogg, Harris County Criminal District Attorney, testified in support of SB 402 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), a bill placing priority on the setting of murder and capital murder trials. Ogg discussed the case backlog courts are experiencing, which includes the most dangerous offenders, and how this bill would expedite the processing of these cases, bringing justice to victims. The bill was voted favorably out of committee.
John Creuzot, Dallas County Criminal District Attorney, testified in support of SB 1319 by Huffman. The bill provides for overdose mapping (ODMAP), an invaluable tool for law enforcement to identify spikes in overdoses and enable them to rapidly respond. Creuzot said ODMAP is currently being used in other states with success and asked for full Texas support. The bill was voted favorably out of committee.
The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence met on Tuesday. Judge Nicholas Chu, Vice-Chair of JPCA's JP Legislative Committee, testified in support of HB 409 by Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth). The bill adds a justice of the peace, municipal court judge or appointed magistrate to the board of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. A JPCA priority bill was also heard. HB 291 by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) consolidates and simplifies the occupational driver's license procedure. Judge Lynn Holt, a JPCA Legislative Committee member, testified in support. Both bills were left pending in committee.
Legislative Directories Available for Order
The Texas Association of Counties' Legislative Directory for the 88th Legislature is now available for order. The directory includes contact information for TAC's Legislative Services team, leaders and legislative chairs of the county affiliate organizations, members and committees of the Texas House and Senate, and more. Order your copies here.
For information about this article, please contact Pete Winckler, Kelsey Bernstein, or Megan Molleur.